Nine reasons why the biotech world loves L.A.

Los Angeles – biopharma business hub

Magazines love to use numbers in titles to attract attention. You know the kind, “Top Ten Tips for Trimmer Hips”, “Six Ways to Slim for Swimsuits”, “Five Steps to Perfect Abs”. But here’s a headline you probably won’t see on a magazine cover in the supermarket checkout line – Top 10 U.S. Biopharma Clusters. But it certainly caught our attention, particularly as three of the top ten are here in California.

The ranking comes from the magazine GEN, which reports on genetic engineering and biotechnology news – not a big seller at Safeway or Piggly Wiggly though you can spot one in just about any lab you visit. They based their ranking on the number of patents awarded in a region, the amounts of NIH grant funding and venture capital funding it attracted, the total lab space in the region, and the number of jobs in the field.

There were the usual suspects in the top three with San Francisco heading the list (again – hurrah), followed by Boston/Cambridge and San Diego. But there was a new entry from California with Los Angeles coming in at number 9. L.A. broke into the top ten based on a number of factors according to the magazine:

“the Los Angeles region has some notable employers, from Amgen in Thousand Oaks, to California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, and UCLA in, where else? Together they employed 23,054 people in “biomedical” positions (California Biomedical Industry Report 2013), giving the region one of the smallest workforces among the top-10. LA placed ninth in NIH funding ($65.4 million) but climbed to the middle of the pack in patents granted (550).”

Just as the stem cell agency has played a key role in making San Francisco and San Diego major players in the field, we also been instrumental in helping make L.A. a player with hundreds of millions of dollars in stem cell research funding for UCLA ($213m), USC ($106m), Cedars-Sinai Medical Center ($41m), Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles ($17.5m) among others.

If you are judged by the company you keep, we are keeping very good company indeed.

kevin mccormack

Deep brain stimulation may help advanced Parkinson’s patients by producing new stem cells

The fact that the symptoms of advanced Parkinson’s disease patients improve after implantation of electrodes has always felt a bit like voodoo to me. But this “deep brain stimulation” works. The dyskinesias, the involuntary muscle tics, that plague these patients improve after the implants.

Now, a team of scientists from the University of Florida and the University of Auckland in New Zealand has published research that offers part of the explanation for why it works. These patients produce more nerve stem cells.

The researchers published their work in PLOSone March 3 and The New Zealand Herald ran an interview with lead New Zealand researcher yesterday. It quoted Maurice Curtis on the gap in understanding about the effect of deep brain stimulation:

We always knew that when people had these electrodes implanted in their brains that their symptoms would improve, but we’ve never really known why that should make a difference. What these electrodes seem to be doing is to actually increase the amount of stem cells that are present in the key areas of the brain that normally just have a small number of stem cells. So the hope is that those stem cells are actually doing something beneficial.

However, Curtis admits that the study leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

We know that stem cells mount a major regenerative response, but is that what really brings about changes in the brain that improves the symptoms? Even though this paper is definitely a step in the right direction it leaves lots of unanswered questions about why deep brain stimulation works the way it does.

CIRM funds several projects, both fundamental research and projects moving toward the clinic, to help unravel part of those mysteries. You can read about those projects on the CIRM Parkinson’s Disease Fact Sheet.

One of those projects is using electrical currents to guide stem cells to the site of brain injury. That work is described by Min Zhao of the University of California at Davis in this video.

Don Gibbons